Kolkata: Facing the task of steering the Left front out of harm's way in the West Bengal Assembly polls, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee also finds himself challenged by two former colleagues in the Jadavpur seat. The two candidates are Manish Gupta of the Trinamool Congress, who retired as chief secretary during Bhattacharjee's chief ministership, and former CPM South 24-Paragans district secretary Samir Putatunda who is a candidate of the Party for Democratic Socialism.
The constituency, where there are another 10 candidates, including six independents, in fray and comprises 10 wards of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, is a CPM stronghold never failing to elect the Left party candidates since 1972.
Understandably, Bhattacharjee, the face of Left Front, is giving a lions's share of his time to the constituency holding meetings or roadshows almost daily. He has been winning from the constituency since 1987 and in the last Assembly election in 2006 he had won by a margin of 58,130 votes.
But a worrying factor for him is that in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections CPM candidate Sujan Chakraborty had a lead of only 19,077 votes from the Jadavpur segment and lost the parliamentary seat to Trinamool's Kabir Suman. Moreover, in the 2010 Kolkata Municipal Corporation elections, the CPM lost six wards under the Jadavpur Assembly constituency, trailing behind Trinamool by a total of 10,927 votes. In the remaining four wards, the CPM won by an aggregate margin of 10,235 votes.
Adding to the CPI(M)'s worries, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, with Manish Gupta at her side, held a mammoth padayatra on April 3, covering several constituencies, including Jadavpur. As Banerjee walked the 12-km route from Gariahat to Garia in one of the most successful roadshows organised by Trinamool Congress, people participated overwhelmingly to catch a glimpse of the leader widely perceived to be the next chief minister of the state.
In a counter-offensive on April 9, the CPM launched the chief minister on a roadshow almost following the route taken by the Trinamool Congress chief the previous weekend. While Banerjee walked the entire length of her roadshow,
Bhattacharjee travelled on an open jeep in the middle of a mighty procession of CPM activists and supporters.
Since then, Bhattacharjee had held a number of smaller road shows in neighbourhoods across his constituency.
The Opposition claims such roadshows by the Chief Minister are unprecedented and have been organised by the CPM as it was afraid of losing ground in a pocket constituency.
But the CPM is dismissing the Opposition claim. "There is no substance in such claims. There is nothing new getting the chief minister on a roadshow. If you go through the newspapers around the time of the 2006 Assembly elections, you'll find that he had been on road shows then too," Bhattacharjee's election agent and former city mayor Bikash Bhattacharya said.
However, the only roadshow Bhattacharjee participated this time was the one on April 9. "The others are only mass contact programmes. After the Election Commission allows use of microphone from April 13, the chief minister will address public rallies," he said.
In his mass contact programmes, the chief minister is going at length to tell the electors that although he does not get time to visit the constituency frequently, he gets regular feedbacks from partymen about the problems there.
"I always take updates on how the roads are, whether the water supply is regular and the lights are functioning properly. I release money for projects within my capacity," the chief minister tells voters, while promising to remain
with them in their times of joy and sorrow.
His main opponent Manish Gupta, meanwhile, is mostly on low-key, door-to-door campaigns, telling voters about how they have been deprived during the Left Front rule. "People in the constituency have told me that the chief minister has not spent his MPLAD funds for Jadavpur. The voters here need an explanation from him as to what the funds have not been utilised," he said at a public meeting.
section of voters, however, want answers to other questions as well. "The CPM controls the club near my house and it is now a den of drunkards. A number of so-called party leaders in our area move around in expensive bikes and cars. The party has become alienated from the common people. What went wrong? Let the party answer," a resident of Bagha Jatin, who was born and brought up in a Communist family, said on condition of anonymity.
But will a change improve matters? "Maybe yes, maybe no. But the party must be given a jolt. Perhaps only then will it come to its senses and put the human being, instead of selfish politics, at the centre of its activities," she said, adding she has not voted at all since 2006.